The Dallas Cowboys didn’t “lose on purpose’’ in Sunday’s season finale against visiting Washington. But they “lost with valor’’ and they “tried in defeat’’ and they saw a perfectly imperfect result with a 34-23 loss that drops them to 4-12, solidifying their No. 4 spot in the draft to pair with their 2016 last-place schedule, and demonstrating the brilliance of what I’ve called “organic tanking.’’
If the Super Bowl was still within Dallas’ reach, do you think Sean Lee’s hamstring would’ve put him on the inactive list? Do you think Dez Bryant’s foot would be about to be surgically “re-done?” Heck, if contention was still a possibility, Tony Romo would be over there with a ball cap on top of his head with thoughts of rapid rehab from a broken collarbone inside of his head.
So I posed that question specifically to Lee.
“I’m not going to disrespect my teammates and my coaches and be out there not playing the right way,” said Lee, who told me he felt like “75 percent” but passed on a $2-mil incentive bonus by sitting. “I have a fantastic contract. The Joneses have been extremely gracious. They’ve been very patient with me because of injuries in the past, so I’m very grateful to have the contract I have. To me, I’m going to be playing for the Cowboys next year, a great franchise, making a ton of money, so I’m not too worried.”
Maybe this is a statement on the long-term fiber of this franchise. But for the Sunday moment? Instead of Lee you got rookie Mark Nzeocha, a name as difficult to pronounce as it is to spell. Instead of Dez you got Terrance Williams and Cole Beasley as go-to’s. Instead of Romo you got Kellen Moore, who entered the game as owner of the third-poorest QB rating in the NFL this year of the 68 QBs to qualify…and who, despite helping the Cowboys put up points here, has done nothing to dispel the idea that Dallas will use that premium pick on a college QB like Jared Goff (Cal) or Paxton Lynch (Memphis).
I’m not going to waste much time dissecting this particular game – a warm-up for the playoff-bound Redskins and a warm-down for the crummy Romo/Dez-less Cowboys. This day wasn’t the “end of 2015,” not really. It is the “beginning of 2016,’’ with a schedule now locked in that is as soft as the NFL allows.
Next year, the Cowboys are at home against Baltimore, Cincinnati, Chicago, Detroit and Tampa, along with divisional foes the Eagles, Giants and Redskins. On the road, Dallas gets the Eagles, Giants and Redskins, of course, and then at Cleveland, Green Bay, Minnesota, Pittsburgh and San Francisco.
“Easy?” Naw. But by the design, last-place teams oppose as many of their own ilk as possible. That’s what that schedule does, and along with the favorable draft position well-earned by the pain of a miserable season, is why in this NFL sub-.500 teams from one year so frequently become contenders the next.
So now Dallas will self-evaluate, but owner Jerry Jones tells me the central cast of characters will remain intact. “I certainly have evaluated (head coach) Jason Garrett’s situation, and I’m not interested in any change, or thinking about any change there,” Jones said.
Hate on Jerry and Garrett and whomever else you wish to target with your darts. They all deserve it, everyone at Valley Ranch, as they are all 4-12. But they deserve something else, too; The last-place schedule, the No. 4 slot in the draft, and the very real possibility of being the favorite to win the 2016 NFC East.